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Bears at the break: 3 views, predictions

MinnesotVikings v Chicago Bears

Minnesota Vikings v Chicago Bears

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Updated: October 23, 2013 5:17PM



The opening segment of the Marc Trestman era has been everything anyone expected it to be — for better or worse.

Jay Cutler has a career-best 91.7 passer rating — but still is bugged by inconsistency and the fickle finger of fate. A revamped offensive line has been arguably the team’s biggest upgrade, but one mistake was costly — the lone sack of Cutler against the Redskins resulted in a groin injury that will sideline the quarterback for at least four weeks.

The defense is third in the NFL with 18 takeaways and tied for the NFL lead with four touchdowns — but it allowed 499 yards and 38 points to the 1-4 Redskins and is losing players faster than it can replace them.

The 4-3 Bears have had the ball with a chance to tie or win in the final minute of all three of their losses — but they could be 0-7, too. With Cutler and Lance Briggs out with injuries, it could get worse before it gets better. Win or lose, it will be a bumpy ride to the finish for Trestman & Co.

Most valuable player

Adam L. Jahns: Let’s make it “most valuable coach.” Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer has worked wonders forming a viable offensive line from five players who hadn’t played together, including two rookies.

Mark Potash: It seems like eons ago, but without Jay Cutler’s game-winning touchdown drives against the Bengals and Vikings in the first two weeks of the season, the Bears could be 1-6.

Patrick Finley: Brandon Marshall. Pro Football Focus ranks him as the NFL’s second-best receiver and the best blocker at his position. He’s the Bears’ biggest threat, with or without Jay Cutler.

Biggest disappointment

Jahns: It’s defensive end Julius Peppers, who has one sack in seven games and a minus-3.1 rating, according to Pro Football Focus. Is he healthy? Is the 33-year-old’s career nearing an end? He’s a big question mark.

Potash: Peppers usually finds a way to make an impact without sacks, but not this year — one sack, one TFL, no pass breakups, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery.

Finley: The two healthy NFL defensive ends making more than Peppers’ $9.9 million base salary — the Vikings’ Jared Allen and the Bengals’ Michael Johnson — have combined for seven sacks and 16 quarterback hits. Peppers has one of each.

Biggest surprise

Jahns: Defensive end Shea McClellin’s snow-balling struggles. He looks like a player trying to do too much and playing outside himself. He has more potential than his numbers show, but it might take a position switch and new scheme to get that.

Potash: Cornerback Tim Jennings was a prime candidate for a drop-off after a career year, but he’s been nearly as good, with two pick-sixes and six pass breakups.

Finley: Maybe he shouldn’t be one, given his age, but rookie Jordan Mills has gone from a stellar Week 1 performance to the worst pass-blocking tackle in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.

Best play

Jahns: The most important play is Jennings’ interception in the final minutes of the 27-21 victory against the Giants. If Eli Manning doesn’t overthrow tight end Brandon Myers, the Bears could have a losing record.

Potash: Matt Forte made a nifty cut in stride to turn a 10-yard gain into a 50-yard touchdown against the Redskins. Forte has three rushes of 50 yards or more — even Adrian Peterson only has two.

Finley: Cutler’s 16-yard touchdown pass to Martellus Bennett with 10 seconds left to beat the Vikings in Week 2. The Vikings have the fourth-worst point differential in the league.

Best performance

Jahns: Josh McCown’s play against the Redskins after Jay Cutler tore his groin. In a hostile environment, McCown led the Bears to 24 second-half points and put them in position to be 5-2.

Potash: Cutler was never more clutch than when he drove the Bears 66 yards in 10 plays, capped by a game-winning 16-yard touchdown pass to Bennett with 10 seconds left to beat the Vikings.

Finley: Sure, Alshon Jeffery’s 218-yard performance against the Saints included empty yards. But who would have thought the second-year wide receiver would break a 59-year-old franchise record?

Unsung hero

Jahns: In a contract year, defensive end Corey Wootton might play out the season at three-technique tackle. He’s performing well and with zero complaints.

Potash: There’s no telling where the Bears’ defensive line would be without Wootton, whose play has improved since he moved inside after Nate Collins suffered a season-ending injury.

Finley: On a one-year deal for $715,000, left guard Matt Slauson has ­outperformed his linemates by a mile, scoring a +4.5 rating by Pro Football Focus.

Biggest concern

Jahns: Who the heck is going to be handling the defensive calls with Lance Briggs out for about six weeks? I don’t think rookie Jon Bostic is ready. Can James Anderson really do it in his first year with the team?

Potash: I’m more worried about the Next Man Down than the Next Man Up. Poor line play seems to be wearing down the entire defense. Will Charles Tillman ever be 100 percent?

Finley: How will they stop anyone? Only six teams have given up more than the Bears’ 391 yards per game, and only four have allowed more than the Bears’ 29.4 points. And it’s not likely to get better.

Most telling statistic

Jahns: The four sacks the Bears’ defensive line has generated. Having a front four that can rush the passer without help is needed for any cover-2-based team. They simply don’t have it.

Potash: The Bears are tied for the NFL lead with one false start this season. It’s that kind of discipline that provides hope the offense can grow no matter who is playing quarterback.

Finley: It took Martellus Bennett six games to eclipse the receptions and yards of every single Bears tight end from last year. That’s good play calling.

Most overrated statistic

Jahns: The Bears’ 30.4 points per game average. Yes, scoring is everything, but the defense has scored four touchdowns and, as a team, the Bears have scored 69 points off takeaways. There still is a reliance on turnovers.

Potash: Cutler is having a fine year, but without gratuitous production after falling behind the Saints (26-10) and Lions (40-16), his passer rating is 84.0 — his career average.

Finley: Only three teams have given up fewer sacks than the Bears’ 11. But the team allowed the one sack that mattered — it led to Cutler’s injury.

New predicted finish

Jahns: 8-8. My original projection was 10-6, but the Bears have too many injuries to persevere. What if more occur? The Bears have winnable games against the Rams, Vikings, Browns and Eagles, but all of them are on the road.

Potash: I had the Bears pegged at 11-5. But injuries have taken a toll, and the defense could get worse before it gets better. With a manageable schedule, they’ll finish 9-7.

Finley: I’m sticking with 9-7. Throw out the Packers games, and the Bears’ remaining opponents are 21-27. Only the Packers have a better record than the Bears.



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